Six-year-old suit dismissed days before trial

Updated: October 28, 2004, 8:08 PM ET
Associated Press

DURHAM, N.C. -- A federal judge has dismissed a 6-year-old sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former player against North Carolina women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance.

So many of the comments that were attributed to me were simply not true. I apologized before for making some inappropriate comments, but none of them reached the levels that were claimed in this case.
Anson Dorrance,
UNC women's soccer coach

The "behavior at issue does not constitute severe, pervasive and objectively offensive sexual harassment," U.S. District Court Judge N. Carlton Tilley Jr. wrote in a 24-page opinion Wednesday.

The case by former player Melissa Jennings was scheduled to go to trial Monday in federal court in Greensboro.

"I am thankful the court has ruled to dismiss the case," Dorrance said in a statement released Thursday. "I appreciate the support so many people, including the university, my players and family, gave me throughout this entire process. So many of the comments that were attributed to me were simply not true. I apologized before for making some inappropriate comments, but none of them reached the levels that were claimed in this case.

"I'm glad we can all move forward and I can concentrate on my family and my team."

Craig Jennings, the father of Melissa Jennings, declined to say whether his daughter would appeal the decision and said he continues to support his daughter's claims.

"If anybody reads the record -- it is public record -- those people who have read it understand the situation," he told The Herald-Sun of Durham, which first reported the dismissal.

Melissa Jennings initially joined another former player, Debbie Keller Hill, in the suit. The parties split when Hill wanted to settle the case and Jennings wanted a trial.

North Carolina agreed in March to pay Hill $70,000. The agreement also requires Dorrance to attend yearly sensitivity training and to write a letter of apology to Hill, who was a team captain as a senior in 1996.

Jennings, a reserve goalkeeper for two seasons, alleged in the suit that Dorrance sexually harassed her by asking questions about her sexual activity and those of her teammates.

In his apology letter, Dorrance acknowledged that he discussed sexual activity among a group of players but did so in a "jesting or teasing nature" and did not intend to offend any player.

Dorrance cut Jennings in 1998 after a discussion with the school's athletic director indicating she wasn't contributing on the field or in the classroom.

Jennings' release from the team came just about the time North Carolina officials said they first heard of sexual harassment claims from Jennings. She contends she made the complaints as early as 1996.

Her father said the dismissal of the case surprised him.

"I don't understand the system," Craig Jennings said.

Dorrance is the most successful women's soccer coach in the nation, having coached the Tar Heels to 17 NCAA titles since 1982. He also coached the women's national team from 1986 to 1994, leading them to a gold medal in 1991 at the inaugural women's World Cup tournament.

His team is the top-ranked team in the nation this year.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press